OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Dirk Nowitzki scored 18 points during an off night for both of the game’s superstars, and the Dallas Mavericks built a huge lead early before hanging on for a 93-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.
The Mavericks, who tied with Miami for the league’s best road record during the regular season, won for the fourth straight time outside Dallas in these playoffs and reclaimed home-court advantage just two nights after letting it get away in Game 2.
Nowitzki went 7 for 21 from the field but Dallas still called on him in the clutch to hold off Oklahoma City’s late charge.
“He’s the best, even if he’s not making shots early he wants the ball to make a play,” Dallas guard Jason Kidd said.
NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant also struggled from the field, hitting just 7 of 22 shots to finish with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Russell Westbrook responded to a fourth-quarter benching with 30 points, helping the Thunder rally from 23 points down to make it interesting in the final minutes.
Dallas had already blown a 23-point lead in the final 13 minutes in the first round at Portland, and led by 22 with 17 minutes to go this time.
Even with Nowitzki struggling, the Mavericks leaned on the big German with the Thunder closing the gap. Nowitzki got the ball on 10 of 11 possessions and scored just three times, but it was enough to keep Oklahoma City at bay.
Westbrook and Daequan Cook each missed 3-pointers that could’ve gotten the Thunder within three, and Westbrook then lost the ball out of bounds before Jason Terry’s jumper stretched the advantage to 86-78 with 1:42 remaining.
Nowitzki added a jumper from the left elbow to put the lead back at eight after Durant hit two free throws, and Dallas held on from there.
Shawn Marion also scored 18, and Kidd and Terry each chipped in 13. Tyson Chandler had 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
The Thunder leaned on their bench again in the fourth quarter, but this time Westbrook was on the court instead of the bench like he was in Game 2. Reserves Nick Collison, James Harden and Cook joined the All-Star tandem of Durant and Westbrook on the floor in the fourth, but the bench didn’t come up nearly as big in this one.
After outscoring Dallas’ reserves 50-29 in Game 2, the Oklahoma City bench had just 16 points in this one. The Thunder missed their first 16 3-pointers — including all eight by Durant — before Westbrook made one in the final minute to get Oklahoma City within 88-83.
Dallas made five of its six free throws to close it out, and Terry swiped the ball with 10 seconds left and ran out the clock on the win.
Oklahoma City fell behind by as many as 23 after a dreadful start, and it didn’t get much better for a while. The Thunder had made only 10 of their 41 shots when Dallas bumped its lead back up to 58-36 by scoring the first six points after halftime.
Harden — the bench star with 23 points in Game 2 — started a rally by driving for a layup and then taking an elbow from Chandler to draw a technical foul. That started a burst of eight straight points to get the Thunder within 65-52, the closest they’d been since the end of the first quarter.
Westbrook continued the comeback in the fourth by exploiting a matchup against J.J. Barea to get to the rim and the foul line repeatedly. He had the first eight points in a 10-2 run for Oklahoma City, with Harden’s two free throws getting the deficit down to 80-74 with 5:36 to play.
The rally fizzled after that, though.
Westbrook also picked up his fifth technical foul of the postseason for shoving Nowitzki in the back after a third-quarter whistle. He and Chandler are each two shy of earning a one-game suspension.
The Thunder missed 15 of their first 19 shots and committed eight turnovers while Dallas rushed out to a commanding 35-12 lead, finishing the impressive start by scoring the first eight points of the second quarter.
Oklahoma City had its worst first quarter of the season and couldn’t get much of anything going through the first 14 minutes, scoring two of its four baskets on tipped-in misses and losing Westbrook briefly after he picked up two fouls in the opening 9 minutes.
When the Thunder finally started cutting into the lead, it was at the foul line. They scored 16 of their 36 points on free throws, and outscored Dallas 7-1 at the line in the final 2 minutes of the half to get within 52-36.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)